By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy
MOSCOW, Russia, June 20 (Reuters) - When the Soviet Union took fourth place in the 1966 World Cup, they were deemed failures at home, recalls Valery Porkuyan, the country's top scorer in that campaign.
Today's Russia team would love to achieve as much, he said.
Porkuyan, now 69, is watching the 2014 World Cup at his country house near Odessa. He does not believe that Russia will do well.
"Russia have a difficult group. Even Korea showed that they are a good side and things will not get any easier. I do not think Russia will get out of their group."
"There are no standout players within their squad and their midfield looks weak. It will be very difficult for them," he told Reuters in an interview.
It would take at least a decade for Russia - which will host the 2018 World Cup - to become contenders, he said.
"There needs to be an improvement in grassroots football, build pitches and put money into developing Russian players and not buying foreigners," he said.
Recalling the 1966 tournament in England, he said the Soviet Union had won the European Champions title in 1960 and reached the final of Euro 1964, so the defeat to West Germany in the semi-finals of the World Cup was a disappointment.
"When we got back to Moscow, no delegates met us and no one told us that we had done well. We went straight back to our training camp," Porkuyan said.
"Fourth place would have been seen as not the greatest of results as everyone was expecting much more."
"If Russia were offered the chance to finish fourth now in the World Cup, they would accept it without even thinking. However, unfortunately it is very difficult to even imagine Russia achieving such a result now."
Porkuyan, who now works as an assistant coach and scout with Chernomorets Odessa in Ukraine's top division, said he was only called in to the 1966 squad at the last moment.
"There were 22 players who could be picked to be in the squad and the coaching staff had already decided on 20. I managed to score quite a few goals for Dynamo Kiev and as a result I received a telegram, telling me to 'fly to Moscow immediately."
The Soviet Union beat North Korea 3-0 and Italy 1-0 in their first two matches, which booked their passage through to the quarter-finals. In their final match of the group against Chile, head coach, Nikolay Morozov decided to give some of his squad players the chance to get a game, which included Porkuyan.
He grabbed a brace in that game and in the quarter-final against Hungary, which the USSR won 2-1, he scored the winner.
He also scored in the semi-final against West Germany, which the Soviets lost 2-1, while in the third place play-off against Portugal, Porkuyan was not picked to play as his side lost 2-1.
"Back then Soviet citizens went abroad very rarely and I think thought of ourselves as being in a privileged position to spend a month in England. When we were preparing to go back home, we were able to walk around London, which was a very clean, beautiful and comfortable city."
Porkuyan did not reach the same heights again. He went to the 1970 World Cup, but did not play a minute of the tournament in Mexico. He played eight matches for the national team and scored four goals.
He finished his career at Dnepr Dnepropetrovsk in 1975 after his spell at Dynamo Kiev.
(Reporting By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
- Sports & Recreation
- Soviet Union